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Class Skirmishes. "In Time" + "Tower Heist"

We'll be waiting a bit longer for the movies to catch up with the anger of the 99%.

Given the sheer logistics of conceiving, producing and distributing a film, the claim that any current theatrical release speaks to the moment is a precarious proposition at best — and yet, we can't help ourselves. Even aware as we are that it'd be impossible to aim a film at a starting date when all the world will be hitting precisely the same talking points as those outlined in the screenplay, we spot patterns, serendipitous as they may be. Margin Call, for example, would have been "timely" on any given weekend in the past three years, but it had the luck to be released two weeks ago, just as the media's affair with the Occupy Wall Street movement was in full bloom. What's more, as noted in the roundup, while a few strong arguments have been made against it, convincing cases have been made for Margin Call as a viewer-friendly illustration of the whys and hows the "enemy" has become, as Daniel Krauthammer argues in the New Republic, "the system itself."

That's evidently more than can be said of Andrew Niccol's In Time, which, grants Paul Constant in the Stranger, "is perfectly timed: It's a science fiction movie about a future in which time is literally money, and 99 percent of the population is working for the next day of their lives. Dead bodies of people who spent more time than they earned litter the sidewalks as everyone else rushes from work to home and back again, without a second to spare. The poor rage against the wealthy for having millions of years — being effectively immortal — while the poor are living from minute to minute. The simple shift of money to time, and the resultant raising of stakes from going underwater on a mortgage to losing your life, makes a Robin Hood scenario a moral imperative. Too bad the Robin Hood is Justin Timberlake."

Long story short, "In Time owes as much to The Marx-Engels Reader as Bonnie and Clyde," as Melissa Anderson puts it in the Voice. For Nick Schager, writing in Slant, "In Time proves a rather mundane proletariat-uprising fable, and one pockmarked by many all-too-convenient developments designed to hurriedly move the plot forward." It "coasts by on stolid convention, indulging in us-against-them conflicts free of genuine danger or consequence."

Wait, it gets worse. Tower Heist, opening on Friday, "is the 1%, turning the frustrations of the masses into an all-star action/comedy hybrid moneymaker under the guise of empathy, and tossing a few comic crumbs to those of us willing to suspend a little disbelief," writes Sarah Lerner in the L. "Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) is our modern-day Robin Hood [him again!], a Queens resident born and raised (and therefore, a good guy, a card-carrying member of Hollywood's venerable, morally infallible small-town boys club). He's the expert building manager for The Tower, a gold-plated monstrosity just off of Columbus Circle. When penthouse resident Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) is placed under house arrest for an alleged Ponzi scheme, the pension plans of the Tower staff are considered lost thanks to Kovacs's naïve trust in Shaw's abilities. The clouds part when terribly written FBI Agent Claire Dunham (Téa Leoni as the unbelievably, passionately uncouth government agent) drunkenly hints at a large safety net that Shaw is hiding, and Kovacs decides to assemble a team and seek retribution. Cue the music."

In the Voice, Nick Pinkerton picks it up from there: "So with his newly unemployed friends, as well as Chase Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), a depressed ex-financier recently evicted from The Tower, and Slide (Eddie Murphy), a thug childhood acquaintance whom Josh bails out of Rikers to act as a kind of criminal consultant, Josh outlines a plan to break into the penthouse, where Shaw has been put on house arrest, and liberate the cash."

"Thus," writes R Kurt Osenlund in Slant, "the film establishes its trickle-down socioeconomic trio, with The Man stiffing the working man who turns to the street man working the system. Tower Heist doesn't have the smarts to properly exploit this scenario, and instead steers it to typical gags, with the macho colored guy schooling the safe-cracking crackers. There are, admittedly, some truly funny bits, especially thanks to Murphy's verbose enthusiasm and a pathetic kitty-cat performance from Matthew Broderick… But for someone of Murphy's veteran status, there's also something tragic about his stereotypical sidekick part, especially when you find out that the idea for Tower Heist was originally his, and that when no one jumped at his proposal for an all-black cast, he deigned to do the project as a supporting player (he maintained a producing credit). Watching him is as fun as watching [Gabourey] Sidibe sex it up with a Jamaican accent, but neither enjoyment is without sourness (the Precious star deserves far more than being an unofficial extension of The Help)."

Back to Nick Pinkerton: "The ripped-from-the-headlines service economy payback aspect of Tower Heist doesn't warrant too much thought. Director Brett Ratner is a student of 80s action-comedy blockbusters, with their easy abandonment of plausible character whenever it stands in the way of a big scene — there is a bit here where a kindly old man plows a truck into the Macy's Day Parade that makes no sense whatsoever — and their topically hiss-worthy villainy. The Russians are out of season; Wall Street will do just as nicely."

More from Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 2.5/4), Trevor Johnston (Time Out London, 3/5), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 2.5/5), Anthony Lane (New Yorker), Christopher Neilan (Little White Lies), Nathan Rabin (AV Club, C+), AO Scott (NYT), Dana Stevens (Slate), Scott Tobias (NPR) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 7/10). Dave Itzkoff profiles Ratner in the New York Times.

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David, just wanted to say thanks, as always, for your quality writing and reporting. A joy to read. I chuckled reading this entry.

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